Reimagining Nation in ¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall!


Nathan E. Richardson

Bowling Green State University


¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall! has long been noted as a landmark film in Spanish cinema, "el clásico más irónico del cine español" that "cracked open new possibilities for engagement with significant socio-political commentary within conventional comedic modes" (Moyano; Rolph 8). The Berlanga film (1) can be listed as part of a series of cultural, political, and economic events that make the early 1950s a key moment in the evolution of the Franco regime and Spain in general.(2) As such a classic film arriving at such a key moment, Berlanga´s film has been studied from a variety of viewpoints, but typically either viewed as a film of social critique or aesthetic exploration. Ramón Gubern, for example, describes its ideological project in terms of post-1898 "Regeneracionismo" while Kathleen Vernon reads the film as a critique of the seepage of Hollywood into everyday life (Gubern, in Gómez Rufo 250-51; Vernon 321). In the following pages I argue that the two readings, while not discounting the other, have not been sufficiently linked. By linking the two, I find in Berlanga´s film a social critique that extends beyond the immediate historical limits of 1953 Spain defined by a flagging regionarationist spirit, its present cultural subservience to Hollywood, or its forthcoming encounter with U.S. foreign policy. As aesthetic exploration and social critique are read together, ¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall! may be viewed as a film more about processes than products. It is a film that invites its spectators along on an exploration of the processes by which their nation has been imagined, is currently imagined, and especially how it may be imagined in the future. In so doing, the film hints at new social, political, and spatial orders to come in the next half-century that begin with but extend far beyond the simple remaking of a nation (Spain), of its internal components (Castilla/Andalucía), or of its basic international relations (Spain/U.S.). It may be a stretch to argue that Berlanga´s film is a story about globalization. Still, I argue that by drawing social and aesthetically-focused readings together, a view of the film surfaces that reveals the film´s registration of emergent processes through which spectators as citizens (or citizens as spectators, as I will show) would participate to thoroughly rethink and reshape their world in the coming decades.

Érase una vez un pueblo

The narration-in-off that begins Berlanga´s film situates the story and the community it describes in the safety of an imagined "once upon a time," inviting spectators from the outset of the film to re-think the reality of the pueblo they are about to see depicted, without threatening basic viewing pleasure. Benedict Anderson´s concept of the imagined community draws attention to similar mental work in the production of the idea of nation, a theory essential to understanding the processes of Berlanga´s film. Anderson describes every nation as imagined; no nation is more real than any other but only differs from another in the way its citizens perceive it (6). Would-be citizens must imagine that "once upon a time" there was a land, a people, a nation—a place and community that always has and always will exist. Anderson shows how specific technologies at particular historical moments have facilitated, for a wide-array of human beings, the activity of seeing themselves as a common body of citizens sharing social, political, cultural, and spatial commonalities. In the eighteenth century, the daily newspaper and the serial novel provided common stories, produced a notion of shared readership, and codified language for distinct geographically-based groups (25-34; 44-45). Out of this mix arose the classic notion of the sovereign nation-state that has dominated and organized Western affairs to the present. In the last half-century, however, the privilege of the nation-state has been challenged by proliferating and ever-more invasive international and transnational orders and institutions. "Globalization" has replaced "nation" as the beginning point for talking about world order. While the nation-state remains a significant factor in foreign affairs and local imaginings, its borders, whether in economic, physical, cultural, or purely imaginative terms, are increasingly porous. If the concept of the nation and nationalism has been described as giving "people a way of thinking about place" (Weibe 5), the global era has, among other work, radically reconstituted space and place for citizens of the West. One of the many theorists who have described the new mental maps arising from the globalization dynamic, Robert D. Kaplan, writes:

the map of the future…will be…a cartography in three dimensions, as if in a hologram. In this hologram would be the overlapping sediments of group and other identities atop the merely two-dimensional color markings of city-states and the remaining nations, themselves confused in places by shadowy tentacles, hovering overhead, indicating the power of drug cartels, mafias, and private security agencies. Instead of borders, there would be moving "centers" of power…Many of these layers would be in motion. (Kaplan 57; see also Klare 139-39)

Theorists link this redrawing of maps historically to the creation of International Governmental Organizations (IGOs) and the ensuing Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in the aftermath of World War II and the ensuing Cold War politics. Significantly, these events, including the post-war Marshall Plan, entrance into the UN, and subsequently the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, and later the EEC/EU are the very phenomenon that produce the encounter central to the re-imagination of community as depicted in ¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall!.(3) "Mr. Marshall" is coming because the U.S. needs a Cold War ally.

Villar de España/Villar de Cine

Illustrating community—from the local to the international—as imagined, lies at the heart of Berlanga´s film. The most obvious case-in-point is the re-imagining of the setting of the film, the Castilian town of Villar del Río. From the point of an announcement of a forthcoming encounter with Marshall plan representatives, villagers scramble to remake their town, converting it into an image pleasing to their American visitors. The Delegado General begs the local mayor that he spruce up the city. The town council debates the performance appropriate to their village, an implicit in-process negotiation of exactly how one is willing to imagine one´s community: decorative fountains—with their chorrizo colorado—may be considered, while triumphal arches, sack races, and free lemonade are definitely out, and so forth. The outstanding example of the continual imagining of the nation comes in the decision to convert the town from what it is, a typical Castilian village, to something totally foreign, a stereotypical whitewashed Andalucían hamlet.

The critical if comedic exploration surrounding the remaking of Villar is quite apparent to even the casual viewer. More critical to our reading is the way that Berlanga positions his spectator to draw connections between the imagination of Villar del Río, the Spanish nation, and the international order, and, by way of meta-cinematic devices, between the on-screen re-imagining and that which is taking place in the dark of the movie theater. This more far-reaching exploration of the re-imagining of nation begins with the opening shot of the film. A still focus on a dirt road vanishing into the rural meseta situates the on-screen story in the heart of Franco´s officially celebrated Castilian countryside.(4) As the opening credits end, an automobile approaches along the road. As it passes, the camera pans 180 degrees to the left to reveal the village of Villar del Río in the distance as a flock of sheep graze in the foreground. While classic Hollywood film-the kind parodied by Bienvenido, but most familiar to its audiences-would dictate a reverse shot at this point to follow the opening shot and thereby suture a would-be spectator into an initial identification, here Berlanga´s editing leaves the spectator in limbo.(5) Explicitly, the camera would seem to be a local villager on the outskirts of the town. Implicitly, by breaking the magical invisibility of classic cinema, the would-be spectator is not invited to identify with this look but left rather in the uncomfortable position of an anticipating film viewer still awaiting the moment of suture. In light of this separation, it is significant that the spectator stands just beyond the town sign, explicitly a member of the community of Villar del Río, but implicitly empowered with an outsider´s awareness of that community as yet an object of the cinematic gaze. Hence, before the spectator meets Villar´s people and places-its signified--, she sees (literally) Villar´s sign post-or signifier-and thereby recognizes Villar as such.

Berlanga sustains this separation for one more lengthy scene in which a narration-in-off introduces the village and its villagers. Again, while the spectator explicitly discovers "his" town, he does so within a sequence that implicitly offers the town as an object of a cinematic gaze, or in other words, a movie set. Berlanga enforces the idea by leaving the town chauffeur frozen within a still-shot, caught in the act of unloading heavy film reels for that night´s western. A consciousness of film as technology weighs down the flights of identification-based escape for which Berlanga´s spectator longs, inviting spectators to an awareness of technologies of imagination even as it embarks on a tale of community re-imagination.

As the film unfreezes and a story begins to unfold, Berlanga reinforces the suggestion of the opening shot that tied the subject matter of the film to Franco´s celebrated mythic Spain. Fernando Rey´s opening narration describes Villar del Río as a typical Spanish village, the kind that any spectator would be familiar with. His description covers the typicalBand reiterates a pattern common to other rural or city/country comedies of the era such as Cerca de la ciudad (1952), Aquí hay petroleo (1955), La ciudad no es para mí (1965)—moving from church, to tavern, to farm, in order to introduce each of the village´s principal figures before commencing with the story. Villar del Río is so typical, in fact, that it is often mistaken for its closest neighbor, Villar del Campo. The oft-repeated confusion between the two merges them in the spectator´s mind. In this merger, the two Villares, already typical Spanish villages, become a metaphor for the village of Spain, or Spain as village: Villar del Río/del Campo, the village of the celebrated rivers and the barren meseta, the place, according to Franco´s appropriation of noventayochesque discourse, where, according to one Franco-era minister, we might "place…the picture of the peasant standing over his land with a house in the background with his children playing at the door and over all of this a modest but divine crucifix" (Cavestany y de Anduaga 94).

Critical Railroad Crossings

To this point, then, Berlanga is offering the spectator simultaneously a vision of the Spain that they have imagined—or been taught to imagine—as natural (6), and awakening them through formal positioning to an awareness of this "natural" homeland as constructed (even if, for now, that construction is entirely attributable to the film machine directed by Berlanga himself). From this point forward, the two visions will play off of each other in the spectator´s mind. However, after the earliest two scenes Berlanga formally separates their development for the next forty-five minutes or so in order to establish an edge of social critique unaffected by what might initially appear to be a more gratuitous, self-conscious exploration of aesthetics by a recent film school graduate.(7)

The earliest social critique exposes Franco´s vision of the rural idyll as hollow and hypocritical. On the surface, citizens live in paradisiacal bliss. Narrator and character comments reveal that their bliss, however, masks a reality of poverty and neglect. The confusion between Villar del Río and del Campo, once more, illustrates the point. Villar del Río is del Campo´s poor relative, manifest principally in the latter´s possession of a coveted railway stop. Del Campo enjoys close geographic connections to the city and civilization. The flow of goods—and thus, of temporal progress, the processes of modernization itself—has by-passed a still premodern Del Río, leaving it with only its "important" baroque architecture to crow about.

With the repeated comic aside about the railway, the invitation to consider community as imagined becomes an invitation to more critical reflection. If a nation is ultimately an imagined spatial form, lived material spatial realities that enable the very imagination of nation are also glossed over thereby. By signaling the tensions between unevenly developed towns, the film prepares its spectator for forthcoming consideration of similarly structured differences between town and country, between town and city (Villar and its provincial capital), between unevenly represented, and developed, regions (Castile and Andalucía, and perhaps implicitly Cataluña, Galicia, Euskadi, etc), and finally between unevenly developed states (Spain and the U.S.). Franco´s Spain is not merely a flavorless, fictional place, but a community the imagination of which is based on uneven development that leaves the heart of the people—the Castilian peasant—in the poverty of an abandoned campo, precisely where the government wanted him ("let us place…the peasant standing over his land…") (Cavestany y de Anduaga 94). As geographers such as David Harvey have reminded us, imagination of a community and the space it occupies is never innocent in its effects on citizens and their places of habitation (32-94). The political, economic, and social changes that will begin with the 1953 encounter between Spain and the United States will not only inspire re-imagination of community, but drastically reshape space, and therefore lives, on several levels.

While it is possible to separate these various binaries in a critique, the film itself presents them as continuously and variously overlaid, similar to the 3-D map proposed in the earlier quote by Kaplan: Villar is the town to the town, the country to the city, Castile to Andalucía, Spain to the United States, and an old sense of nation in opposition to a new, as I will show below. If the spectator was originally positioned as standing just beyond city limits, now she looks at Villar, as well, as if from above, a heterogeneous site produced by an overlaying of a half-dozen cognitive maps. When the community in the film begins to re-imagine itself, not only one but a half dozen mental maps get reconfigured. This expansion of imagined space suggests that America will not simply arrive in Spain, and city will not simply be brought to countryside, but a whole series of places will converge to produce new sites for enclosure and resistance, and new identities for the inhabitants of those sites. Moreover, a new language of community will be developed out of the shattered syntax of cross-cutting binaries.

Berlanga foregrounds the forthcoming spatial restructuring in the literal movement of goal posts, walls, and entire streets as the citizens of Villar del Río prepare for the American´s arrival. These literal moves result from shifts in an imagination of self and society reflected in the makeover of the citizens of Villar del Río into Andalucíans and, at a second level, into citizens of an international society. The interplay between literal shift and imagined change, again, registers an emergent Spanish reality. Any critical traveler can attest, in fact, to a literal re-formation of Spanish place and space in Spain since the arrival of "Mr. Marshall," as castles have been rebuilt, traffic redirected, windmills and churches transported, and city walls dissected by escalators, in an attempt to smooth the flow of capital, encourage the production of global citizens, and re-make Spain in a new and "different" global guise.(8)

Change on Film

Once the citizens and village of Villar del Río have been critiqued and then made over, converted from Franco´s fictionalized Castile to a virtual Andalucían village of North American inspiration, Berlanga reinserts the earlier meta-cinematic exploration of nation-imagination into the film. This reunion occurs appropriately in the locale of the town cinema—the key site where histories, geographies, and people—real and imagined—converge to share momentarily utopian spaces and times, a foucauldian heterotopia. (9) The move to the theater begins on the evening of the completion of the transformation of Villar. The spectator of Berlanga´s film arrives at the Villar theater by way of montage. First, the village priest interrupts a schoolhouse lesson where the citizens have gathered to learn how to imagine the nation that will soon transform their own. The priest denounces America as immoral, noting among other issues their practice of non-Catholic religious traditions. The choice recalls Anderson´s dicussion of the key role of the homogeneous faith traditions in the production of past concepts of community (13-18). The priest, defending his "sacred" Spain—but implicitly defending an earlier concept of nation—concludes his tirade by asking the villagers to imagine for themselves what America will bring: "¿Qué pensáis que nos va a dar America?" Berlanga answers his question for the spectator with a quick change of scene from the school house chalk board to a movie screen on which is projected a NO-DO, as a voice-in-off declares: Amás cosas para más pueblos más pronto…cinco mil tractores, diez mil jeeps, diez mil toneladas de trigo." The short answer to the priest´s question is commodities. But as the voice continues a second shot adjusts this answer. Now the spectator sees the Villar del Río audience watching the newsreel in the darkened movie theater. At the visual level the answer to the priest´s question becomes Acinema," or more broadly, "entertainment," or even, "a new culture industry." What this cinematic culture will make of them, the shot confirms, is not citizens but spectators and consumers. As Berlanga places the technology of film at the heart of the forthcoming re-imagination of the Spanish community, he joins his once disaffected would-be spectator—the one placed on hold in the film´s earliest two scenes—to the audience of Villar del Río. Diegetic and extra-diegetic levels unite. In this way, the answer to the priest´s question is implicitly not focused on what the U.S. will bring to Spain, but on how it will bring it; that is, not what Spain will be, but how it will come to be such: the latest Hollywood western becomes more dangerous then the hords of protestants and Jews of which the priest warns.(10)

Subsequent scenes continue to mix content and structure and to foreground film in the process of spatial change. The next day citizens of Villar del Río meet to traverse the streets of their remade town as they rehearse the welcome ceremony planned for the americanos. In the rehearsal the españolada tradition merges with the Hollywood musical as all of Villar´s citizens join the cuplista Carmen Vargas in a choreographed musical parade through town. The people not only look but act differently as part of this new community. That evening, after yet another NO-DO and double feature, the villagers return to their homes to imagine the gifts of Americanization on a more personal level. The unfolding dream sequences, first, build on the reworking of space that the encounter of formerly geographically distinct entities (US/Spain, city/country, Castile/Andalucía, etc) will effect. In the priest´s dream, a Semana Santa street—one of the most typical and significant spaces of Spanish identity (11) —becomes a back alley of the American South. In the town mayor´s dream, the local Spanish tavern becomes a Western saloon. Under examination, the mere change of space demonstrates the effects of film technology. The American South is a pastiche of Griffith´s Birth of a Nation, the Old West saloon is inspired in any number of Hollywood Westerns. The citizens´ unconscious imagination of cultural and political encounter is shaped by the technology of film, which converts lived spaces into commodified places. The sequences establish, moreover, that the relationship between the encounter and technology is not unidirectional; that is, Spain is not simply about to become Hollywood-ized. The dreams end and begin on a movie set. In addition, the sets of the other dreams, those of the town hidalgo and the representative town farmer, bare little resemblance to Hollywood.(12) Critics have been quick to identify the inspiration of German expressionism and Soviet social realism in several sequences (Rolph 15). Less frequently noted, however, has been the set of the hidalgo´s dream. (13) This celebrator of autochthonous Spain, representative of the mythic glories that Franco championed, inhabits a world that mocks the autarkic film tradition of the Cifesa studio myth-history productions of the 1940s. Thus, with this sequence Berlanga not only reacquaints meta-cinematic play with the movie´s social critique, but places it at the heart of it. The supposed "false," and thus comic, imagination of Spain that will arrive with the Americans and their light culture is not entirely new. The coming encounter represents merely an intensification of a series of discourses and technologies that have already begun to reshape the collective imagination of the Spanish nation. If the welcome party that the villagers plan is doomed to failure, it is not because the Americans will not stop, but rather because that which they represented has already in a sense passed by. America, in short, becomes here a kind of shorthand for Modernity, a movement in which Spaniards, through their dictator, have been culturally complicit (already converted into commodities) while reaping few of its material benefits. Cinema arrived long ago in the Village of Spain, though the railroad never did. The explicit arrival of the U.S. now will force the cinematic, the visual, and the commodified increasingly to center stage. Spain—at least its official rural heart and soul—will soon leap from the pre- to the post- without ever passing through the material processes of modernity.(14) The railroad will forever be an afterthought.

The New Language of Nations

What will be the consequences of this great leap forward for the idea of the Spain? Anderson´s theories of the nation focus on the role of language and its sustaining technologies in the imagination of community. Through the help of a language—given sacred powers by contact with religious community, blessed with historical force when affixed to paper by the printing press, and finally endowed with community-building power when employed in the production of novels and mass distribution dailies—the sense of a nation as limited and sovereign came into being in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (Anderson 13-18, 25-34). In ¡Bienvenido, Mr Marshall!, Berlanga suggests that nations are not only coming into contact, but that their contact is slightly preceded and then subsequently over-determined by a new imagining technology with a radically new language mode.

Language, particularly language breakdown, features significantly in the film, beginning with no less than its Spanglish title, ¡Bienvenido, Mr Marshall!. In addition to a town name that no one can get right, the mayor is nearly deaf, and the film´s numerous mock-celebrated speeches are rambling, repetitive, comedic affairs. When the town council debates the reception of the Americans they consider erecting a triumphal arch, yet all they can imagine writing on it is "hola." When they do finally decorate the town, the banners they place feature such banal Spanish and English words: bienvenido, welcome, hola, hello. The lone eloquent speech of the film is pronounced by the child prodigy, Pepito, who futilely launches his discourse into the deafening cheers of Villar citizens and the dust of a passing American motorcade. There, as the last of the speeding cars drives off into the distance the villagers see stuck on the back of the car a banner sporting its own trite message, "goodbye," its English form rendering it unintelligible to its would-be audience. Finally, much of the comic power of the dream sequences comes in the use of a distorted mush-talk that parrots Spaniards imitating American English. Formal spoken language is utterly absent from the sequences. Earlier critique has noted, as well, a significant disjunction between the film´s spoken narration and the story that unfolds, thus taking again the film´s illustration of language breakdown as part of the new nation-to-nation encounter directly to the audience (Rolph 15-16). In short, conventional language rarely serves its anticipated purposes within the film.

In place of linguistic communication, the film offers a visually-based language-to-come. Film, though often full of clever and dramatic dialog, is ultimately a visual medium, the first significant player in the triumph of visual culture in late twentieth-century western culture.(15) Film can and has been studied as a language in a strictly linguistic sense (Stam 108-10). Still, as most proponents of film as language recognize, audiences do not analyze film codes in linguistic terms but rather look for general, visually based meanings (Stam 112). As Berlanga´s visually-charged dream sequences point out, images ultimately shape the contemporary imagination—the language of visual culture functions according to a different logic.

The nation that will be imagined through visually-based technologies will necessarily be different. Certainly, visual culture´s iconicity, in removing the barriers that written language placed on membership to the fraternity of an imagined national community, vastly increases the possible citizenry of the coming social order. Moreover, it affects the very nature of the citizenship.(16) Berlanga underscores this change in his depiction of the town mayor, a kind of modern-day Quijote (if adorned in Sancho´s clothing) reduced to comic lightness as a consequence of too-frequent film viewing. Citizenship in the new world order is more akin to spectatorship, a frightening vision of a future that will soon include increased democratic possibilities without providing an infrastructure that would encourage liberal citizenship.(17) At the same time, if the mayor is reduced to lightness, the original town Quijote, Don Luis, who apparently rejects Hollywood in favor of older, more "authentic" traditions, has become even more obsolete. In this contrast, Bienvenido acquires a postmodernist tone, presenting a depthless world where spectatorship may be the only role available to would-be members of the global community.

Returning to the scene within the theater, the reverse shot of the townspeople as audience suggests another lesson on the new horizontal fraternity that will together imagine the community-to-come. First, similar to the community of serial novel readers that Anderson studies, the audience in the movie theater learns to imagine their community through the juxtaposition of scenes from different places and times (Anderson 25). Spectators of Villar del Río also share a viewing similar to that of their neighbors in the theater of Villar del Campo, as well as the capital city, participating thereby in the production of an implied horizontal fraternity similar to that achieved by earlier generations through the reading of nineteenth-century newspapers (Anderson 34). On the other hand, movie spectatorship creates a literal fraternity as spectators within a single theater share a viewing of the same screen, a process that might be said to strengthen local bonds as much as it may stretch imaginations beyond physically perceived borders. In so doing, the cinema may not so much tie individuals to each other as it ties groups to groups. It may be a stretch to find in this a precursor to the increasing tendency of citizens of globalization to look for ultimate grounding in local ethnic identities even as they stretch associations across continents through participation in the diasporic public spheres of postnational religions, ethnic groups, and computer gaming clubs. Still, the focus of Berlanga´s camera on a collective audience encourages consideration of what new imaginings might result from a new organization of such.

What will be the consequences of the new increasingly visual language by which our world is imagined? Will the community-to-be-imagined differ radically from that of the past? As to any hope that new processes of imagination—even when self-consciously realized—might loosen up the seductive power of the new community to construct subjects as acquiescent citizens, thereby presenting increased agency among them, Berlanga´s film offers another sobering answer. This comes during the most explicit depiction of imagining community in the film—the scene wherein villagers literally makeover their town as an Andalucían village. The villagers effect this change using props that recall those of actual movie sets—again awakening the self-conscious spectator to critical reflection, reminding that the "real" Castilian village is itself a movie set. Yet, even as he awakens consciousness, Berlanga completes the sequence with a single uncut shot wherein the workers who have just erected the stereotypical "Calle del Rocío" exit the frame to be replaced by a finely dressed Andalucían gentleman strumming a guitar beneath the dimming on-set lights. Suddenly the self-signaling movie-set-upon-a-movie-set begins to function as a believable Andalucían world. The spectator is taken by surprise, suddenly transported from critical distance into the escapism of last week´s españolada. Without even a cut to separate the sequence from its early conscious-producing frames, the world of film language—even when openly exposed—proves capable of inciting powerful imaginings. Future revolutions may be televised. But the new citizens of the coming community—notwithstanding the claims of globalization´s defenders—will not be, by that fact alone, any the wiser (read politically and socially empowered) for it. (18)

Colorín, Colorado

The final scenes of the film, portraying the reality that sets in after the Americans have come and gone, foreground the evolving concept of nation to come in the wake of these visually-guided spatial/political encounters. The brief shot of the American and Spanish flags floating side by side down a gutter, understood by some as an attack on the United States, may be more accurately as a prophecy of the end of a certain nationalist worldview embodied in the idea of a national flag and especially the US flag—the uber-symbol of supernational power in the second half of the twentieth-century (Gómez 240). The sovereignty of the modern nation-state will melt away. While the flags float by, the citizens of Villar del Río pay for their town´s first significant encounter with self-re-imagination by surrendering their own local instruments of an earlier nationalist fervor. The hidalgo hands over his 16th century sword while the doctor surrenders his scientific invention—a poke at the propensity of official publications in the early post-war years to report new autochthonous inventions that were to save the nation from starvation and poverty.(19) Most importantly, the remaining townspeople turn over the abundance of rural products—potatoes and chickens—that lay at the heart of Franco´s official postwar concept of an autarkic, rural-based Spanish state. Maintaining community is no longer a question of maintaining a collection of symbols but of selling them. Community is only preserved when community is for sale. Imagination, under global capitalism, increasingly has a price tag, and, under that price tag, community becomes a commodity.

Berlanga´s film, then, is not simply about a disappointing non-encounter, nor a film about changing concepts of respective nations, but ultimately, a film about the changing concept of the nation itself. The nation could not continue as before because the technologies through which it had once been imagined had changed. Berlanga´s film does not suggest that Spain would disappear, nor that it would become one homogenous Andalucía, nor another US colony. Change would appear more subtly but its effects would finally be more profound. After all, at the conclusion of the film Villar del Río returns to its farming roots, just as citizens of the global era so often flock to ethnic roots for security from "Marshall-izing" motorcades.(20) Nevertheless, tapping back into those roots now costs the villagers, just as sustaining "authentic" identities against encroaching global cultural forces requires economic capital. And while, as the film´s fairytale conclusion, "colorín colorado este cuento se ha acabado," affirms the right of all to keep dreaming, the fact remains that Villar del Río still lacks a railroad—the means for the common citizens to move beyond their community and do more than imagine themselves in other possible communities. As in our own global work, while the villagers are stuck, foreign delegates at various levels blow in and out of town, raising and then dashing hope, promising prosperity but delivering only more—and now more self-consciously felt—poverty (see Friedman 112-42; Harvey 59-72 for contemporary comparisons). The debate over the film´s ending continues today. Is it hopeful? Is it terribly pessimistic? One might argue that Berlanga finally adopts a rather postmodernist or globalist position: resigned, if playfully so. As writers from David Harvey to Thomas Friedman have remarked, many of the processes of globalization simply cannot be reversed (Harvey 85; Friedman xxii). The community we inhabit can no longer be imagined as it once was. Moreover, the subject who imagines is each day less a citizen and more a consumer and spectator. Nevertheless, awareness of the nature of the spaces we inhabit and of the technologies that shape these spaces into imagined communities can facilitate discovery of possible strategies for remaking those spaces. For all its playfulness and, finally, resignation, ¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall!, at least produces a degree of awareness that combines with its playful critique to open the door to potential agency in the struggle to participate in the reshaping of a now postnational community. Perhaps in this empowering lays the remarkable staying power of Berlanga´s film.



(1). Much credit for the ideas, images, and inspiration of the film must be spread among Berlanga and his collaborators, Juan Antonio Bardem and Miguel Mihura. The story of how the three collaborated to transform a contracted españolada into a film classic is well known (see Gómez Rufo). My references to Berlanga in this article should be understood as shorthand for the three. I am not so interested in who did what as in the effects of such on the spectator.

(2). In a memoir of the early Franco years Vizcaíno Casas describes typical sentiments at the conclusion of the 1940s:

nadie imagina entonces que ha vivido la época más difícil, contradictoria y discutida del siglo. Nadie sabe tampoco que España comenzará a andar nuevos caminos, radicalmente distintos a los anteriores. La posguerra (que sigue viva, material y espiritualmente, a los casi once años del ´parte de la victoria´) será, al fin, superada en la década que se inicia.

Para entonces, una generación de españoles que no intervino personalmente en la guerra civil, comenzó a levantar su voz. Forzosamente, los otros españoles tendrían que oírla. Las estructuras mentales del país acusan, con ello, un visible cambio. (327-28)

In addition to Vizcaíno Casas, a number of prominent authors of the time choose to conclude their memoirs at or near the moment of Spain´s compact with the U.S., among them Carmen Martín Gaite, Usos amorosos de la posguerra española and Rafael Abellán, Por el imperio hacia Dios: Crónica de una posguerra (1939-1955).

(3). Kelleher and Klein write: "States have changed in their relationships with each other and with international organizations during the decades since World War II (1939-1945). The war altered how the world works. The international organizations and trends comprising the current international system were either established after the war or transformed because of it" (9). In addition to U.S. hegemony in Europe by way of the Marshall Plan, the U.S. began reshaping the world through the creation of transnational organizations such as the U.N., the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and GATT (later the World Trade Organization). When Spain opened its doors to U.S. military bases in 1952 it was opening its doors to much more than U.S. economic aid or political pressure. It was tying itself to an internationalist approach to political and economic affairs that would soon begin pulling at the foundations of the very system of nation states that had created it.

(4). See Richardson, Postmodern Paletos, 26.

(5). I build my argument here on the basic rudiments of theories of spectatorship, specifically the idea of identification between a film viewer and an on-screen protagonist by way of a simple shot-reverse shot sequence (Silverman 201-03; Monaco 183).

(6). Carmen Martín Gaite offers a valuable case study for the potency of Francoist inculcation. In her essay Usos amorosos de la posguerra española she goes to great lengths to expose a system of total life education carried out by the Spanish government during the post-war years. In El cuarto de atrás, the novel inspired in her research for Usos, however, Martín Gaite shows the irresistible success of the official system. Even as the autobiographical protagonist attacks the system in word, her actions reveal significant unexpected acquiescence, particularly in terms of her submission to the modes of courtship espoused in the official women´s magazines of the day.

(7). Berlanga and Bardem in 1950 were members of the first graduating class from the Spanish national film school, El Instituto de Investigaciones y Experiencias Cinematográficas, and therefore, the first formally trained directors in the Spanish film industry (Gubern 279).

(8). I have in mind here the transfer and renovation of windmills to produce the tourist "Ruta del Quijote" in La Mancha, the Franco government´s restoration and conversion of castles and palaces into resorts, the year 2000 installation of an escalator that now provides tourists easy and direct access to the souvenir shops in Toledo, or the plans by the Xunta de Galicia to develop a postmodern sister city to the medieval center of Santiago de Compostela on an adjacent hillside (Hermida 1).

(9). Foucault defines heteropia as "a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites, that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted" (24). Foucault includes among his examples the cinema (25).

(10). Kathleen Vernon describes the "central theme" of Bienvenido "the reach of Hollywood into the hearts and minds of even the most isolated inhabitants of a small Spanish town" (321).

(11). Gary Marvin describes the plaza and street as essential to the definition of civilization and "being human" in Spain, and particularly in Andalucía. In the streets and plazas people mingle, giving a place "ambiente, which in turn is the social basis for the claim of urbanity…In Adalusian terms urban space is human space." He shows that the further from central streets and plazas an Andalucían lives, the more cut off they feel from community. The campo itself "is perceived as subhuman space," according to Marvin (129-30).

(12). Although recognizing the presence of other national film traditions, critics have concentrated more often on the presence of Hollywood in the dream sequences (e.g. Vernon 322-23), apparently misinterpreting "Mr. Marshall" as symbolic of American cultural products rather than the logic of an entire culture industry that included a wide variety of film traditions. The point, again, is not the product, but the process of imagination that Spain-U.S. encounter will introduce.

(13). Rolph refers briefly to the presence of the local historical epic (14).

(14). See Richardson, "Paleto Cinema."

(15). Benjamin R. Barber describes the changing community resulting from the constantly evolving languages of visual culture: "telecommunication and information systems are an ideology at 186,000 miles per second—which makes for a very small planet in a very big hurry. Individual cultures speak particular languages; commerce and science increasingly speak English; the whole world speaks logarithms and binary mathematics" (26).

(16). Anderson writes of the consumption of mass dailies: "It is performed in silent privacy, in the lair of the skull. Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion" (35).

(17). Fareed Zakaria distinguishes between simple democracy, "the rule of the people," and constitutional liberalism, an approach to government that emphasizes individual rights, the rule of law, and the limitation of governmental power (182-83). Zakaria argues that democracy without a citizenship grounded in the principals of constitutional liberalism "is not simply inadequate, but dangerous, brigning with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and even war" (194).

(18). See Friedman (44-72) on the benefits of globalization to the common citizen.

(19). Rafael Abellán in his chronicle of the postwar years, Por el imperio hacia Dios, documents reports of Spaniards supposedly inventing nylon and cinema years before the rest of the world discovered them, as well as celebrated but ultimately false inventions of alternative gasolines and even of processes for turning straw literally into gold (161-74).

(20). Friedman´s description of anonymous stock, bond, and currency traders as an "Electronic Herd" flooding foreign markets with investments that transform the geographies of the places in which they invest, only to stampede out of town—with their investments—at the slightest sign of financial trouble, is the contemporary equivalent of the Marshall delegates as depicted in Bienvenido, and indeed, closer to the truth of the scene portrayed in Berlanga´s film than would be the actual U.S presence in Spain during the Franco years. See Friedman (112-42).


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